What to Do When You Encounter Wildlife on the Trail

Tips for staying safe and protecting Summit County's resident animal friends

By Jane Gendron Photography by Courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources July 13, 2020 Published in the Summer/Fall 2020 issue of Park City Magazine

While Park City’s 400 miles of trails are a tremendous recreational outlet, they also crisscross wildlife habitat and migration corridors. Just around the next switchback could be a moose, deer, elk, or fox—maybe even a black bear, bobcat, or cougar. Here are tips on what to do if you’re lucky enough to meet a wild animal in its native habitat.

General advice 

Most animals don’t want to engage with humans, so make them aware of your presence. Always make noise when hiking or biking, and slow your roll around blind turns in the trail. As Scott Root of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says, “Never approach or try to touch wildlife.... And don’t ever feed wildlife.” For more information, visit wildawareutah.org.


Estimated population in Utah: 2,650 (2017)

Fun fact: Despite their gawky appearance, moose are speedy: they can run up to 35 mph.

When you meet a moose: Give moose ample space (at least 25 yards) and leash dogs immediately, as a curious canine can anger an otherwise unperturbed animal. The most aggressive moose tend to be a cow moose with a calf. Don’t try to outrun a charging moose; look around and see what you can get behind to separate you and the moose, such as a tree or boulder.


Estimated population in Utah: 2,700 age 2 or older (2018)

Fun fact: The tawny-colored mountain lion has a vast territory: an adult male’s range may cover more than 100 square miles.

When you meet a mountain lion: Stop, pick up small children and pets, make yourself look big, and slowly back away. No matter how scared you may be, do not run (you don’t want to trigger that prey-chasing instinct). In the rare case that the cougar won’t back down, throw rocks or other objects to scare it off.



Estimated population in Utah: 4,000 (2019)

Fun fact: Black bears (often brown or cinnamon-colored) are opportunists who mostly eat vegetation and bugs, plus the occasional fawn—and if given the opportunity, they will steal your pic-a-nic basket, Yogi-style, so keep food well stored to avoid conflicts.

When you meet a black bear: Stand your ground (don’t run or scale a tree), keep calm, and give the bear the opportunity to skedaddle on its own. If a bear attacks, fight back.



Estimated population in Utah: 85,000 (based on a Montana study estimating 0.39 per square kilometer) 

Fun fact: To the chagrin of coyote lovers, in Utah, the “barking dog” (so named for its yips, howls, and barks) has a bounty on its head of $50.

When you meet a coyote: Keep your pets close, make noise, and do not run. While making yourself look as big as possible, back away slowly. If necessary, throw rocks or other objects to frighten it away.


Estimated population in Utah: 76,550 (2019)

Fun fact: The Rocky Mountain elk, the state animal since 1971, requires vast swaths of range land, which is why it’s important to be aware of herds crossing major roads, such as Hwy 224.

When you meet an elk: Give elk, and deer of any species (mule deer are most common locally), at least 25 yards of breathing room. Though elk are unlikely to charge, during the fall “rut” (mating season), males can become aggressive. If one charges, get behind a tree, boulder, or something else solid.



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